With the help of a young Vietnamese girl on the bus from Hue, who spoke English very well, I found myself in Da Nang and knew that I was somewhere near China Beach, where I planned on staying that night.
Of course, I found out that China Beach was about 10km from the city and there were no buses going that way. As a backpacker, you don't have to try to look lost and confused. It's very simple: All you have to do is put your backpack on, look around at nothing in particular and pretend to read your useless guidebook and you stick out like a sore thumb. If you do this for long enough, eventually someone might attempt to help you. In my case, a local guy at a video game place wanted to help so he told me to hop on the back of his motorbike and drove me to China Beach.
The hostel I had planned on staying at that night did not appear to exist so I told the guy to stop at a different hotel, where I met some Filipinos and the family who owned the hotel.
Apparently, there has been a history of Filipinos moving to this area of Da Nang to find work and I happen to stumble across a group of them that formed a cheesy pop band staying at the hotel. One of the singers, Missy, invited me to their show that night after dinner at the Seventeen Saloon about 8km away.
They had to go warm up, so I stayed at the hotel and joined the Vietnamese family for a huge dinner with 20 people all staring and laughing at me the whole time. Any words I spoke in Vietnamese got a rise out of them and caused the whole table to erupt with laughter. The oldest brother of the owner (there were actually 5 brothers) was particularly interested in me because he found that I am American and insisted on talked to me for the rest of dinner. Since the Tet holiday was wrapping up, this was kind of a final dinner celebration for the family, so naturally the beer was flowing and all kinds of food was coming out of the woodwork, which I couldn't refuse. The drunker the brother got, the more eager he was to talk to me; he had fought against the Vietcong back in the 60's and claimed he had not talked to an American since then, so one can only imagine his excitement. He was stationed at China Beach which was an American stronghold during the Vietnam war and specialized in communications with American allies.
Towards the end of dinner, I mentioned that I was going to see the Filipinos play, but needed a ride. One of the family friends, a motorbike driver, volunteered to take me but the brother said it was too dangerous because they had all been drinking including himself. What followed was a 20 minute argument over who was going to take me to the Seventeen Saloon, with the brother shouting at the friend, insisting that I take a taxi and not a motorbike. Eventually, the brother grabbed my arm and said he would take me himself because then he would get to talk to me longer and then invited me to hang out with him and his family the next day.
I didn't end up meeting up with my new Vietnam ally, but I did make a trip to Marble Mountain the next day to pick up a couple handmade statues to mail back to the States. After another random dance party in the courtyard of the hotel with the Filipinos, an Australian businessman, a British traveler, and the Vietnamese owners, I decided to leave China Beach and head about 15km south to tourist central...
Next Stop: Hoi An
Many travelers I met in other countries warned me about the Vietnamese and how "mean" they can be. While some can be rude and unfriendly, there are plenty of rude Americans, Brits, French, Argentinians, etc. so I don't see how one can generalize about a whole population. I agree that some of the locals are intimidating because they are pushy, always trying to sell you something. A big part of their culture IS about making money and they can easily rip off vulnerable backpackers, but if you allow yourself to be taken advantage of, then that's your own fault. How about learning the language and bargaining a little, so you make just as much of a game as they do? I eventually enjoyed bartering with locals and it makes a big difference to offer a smile and attempt a few words of Vietnamese. If you have one bad experience in a country and leave hastily in frustration, then you didn't give it a chance as some travelers I met did. After meeting friendly Vietnamese after friendly Vietnamese, I might have a biased opinion, but now I understand their culture and have never felt more welcomed in a country. In fact, I didn't know that so many Vietnamese actually love Americans...